[box cover]

Living in Oblivion

Steve Buscemi, with lanky hair and the wild-eyed mania of the committed artiste, plays the director of a pretentious indie film in 1996's Living in Oblivion, a twisted love letter to the makers of independent cinema. Writer/director Tom DiCillo knows this world intimately; he was Jim Jarmusch's cinematographer on Stranger Than Paradise and had previously directed the oddball low-budget film Johnny Suede. Winner of a screenwriting award at Sundance, Oblivion is a wickedly funny, acid-laced commentary on the actors, writers, directors, and crew who toil away making low-budget semi-masterpieces. At the film's start, actress Nicole (Catherine Keener) is shooting her big "Ellen Talks to Mom" scene — Nicole, despite her desire to be a considered a serious actress, is best known for a shower scene she did in a Richard Gere movie and her concentration is rattled by the crew's catty remarks. Keener's real-life husband, Dermot Mulroney, plays Wolf, the self-consciously hip director of photography, who sports a beret and eyepatch and sleeps with the assistant director (Danielle Von Zerneck). The film's second act primarily concerns the arrival of hot Hollywood star Chad Palomino (James LeGros), whose next gig, he says, will be playing "the sexy serial killer Winona Ryder shacks up with." LeGros is hilarious as Palomino, a character rumored to be based none-too-subtly on DiCillo's Johnny Suede star, Brad Pitt. Palomino's a smarmy, fatuous, womanizing prima donna who drives his co-stars crazy with his improvising and with his fawning flattery of his director — and despite his professed desire to do some quality work in a "significant" movie, he ends up throwing a temper tantrum, shouting, "The only reason I took this part was because someone said you were tight with Quentin Tarantino!" The last half-hour of the film mainly concerns Buscemi trying to film a dream sequence with a temperamental wind machine and an angry dwarf — the dwarf's dressing-down of Buscemi is a hilarious, pointed comment on the self-concious weirdness of directors like David Lynch. "Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it?" he demands. "I don't have dreams with dwarves in them!" A quirky satire with as much affection for the art of filmmaking as apparent frustration, Living in Oblivion is funny, charming, witty, and often flat-out hilarious. Columbia TriStar's DVD release is beautifully done. DiCillo originally shot Living in Oblivion as a 16mm short, then raised money (some of it from the actors in the film) to expand it to a feature, shooting additional footage on color and black-and-white 35mm film. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is excellent, the black-and-white scenes have a high-contrast quality, and the color scenes are clean and saturated; the opening 16mm scenes are naturally much grainier and rougher — to avoid spoilers, we won't explain why, but it's part of the fun of the film. Extras include a very candid and entertaining commentary track by DiCillo, who describes his view of filmmaking as "Kafkaesque," saying, "At times it appears as if the entire medium is designed to thwart what the medium is designed to do for you — when anything goes wrong, it goes wrong in a very complicated sense." He also denies the rumors that the Palomino character was based on Pitt, saying that Pitt had actually been originally cast in the role but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with Legends of the Fall. Also of board are a terrific 16-minute interview segment with DiCillo and Buscemi, taped at a screening of the film at the 2002 Golden Age Of Cinema Film Festival in New York City, a deleted scene, and trailers for other Sony DVD releases. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page